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Category Archives: Independent Film
The following is a panel I moderated at this year’s Traverse City Film Festival about the impact that social issue documentaries can have on society, as well as the responsibilities that come with it. The panelists were Pamela Yates, Paco de Onis, Pau Faus, and Zaradasht Ahmed. The panel was recorded on July 26th and broadcast on the local NPR station in Northern Michigan.
Feel free to comment after the break. (more…)
I heard the devastating news today that Jonathan Demme is no longer with us. I knew he had been ill, but the last time I saw him he looked like he was back to his normal self and seemed to be in quite good spirits. But then again, Jonathan always gave off the vibe of being in good spirits. I had the pleasure of working with him on two of his films, and then peripherally on two others, and in all that time he never treated me with anything but the utmost respect.
I first met Jonathan shortly after the Cinecom team screened “Stop Making Sense” and we immediately decided we wanted to distribute it. The film had been financed by Warner Brother Records; from their perspective, it was merely a promotional film intended to broaden the appeal of Talking Heads. We saw the film differently, as Demme was already on our radar as someone we would love to work with. Yes, it was a great concert film, but the simplicity with which it captured a live performance and made it feel as immediate and exciting as if you were in the room–this was something new. This was pure cinema.
Jonathan was coming off of a few films that, while well received critically, had not exactly set the world on fire. Worse yet, he had just finished “Swing Shift,” a fairly big budget Hollywood movie he wasn’t all that pleased with, that tanked at the box office. The experience of “Stop Making Sense” seemed to him like a breath of fresh air at a time when his Hollywood stock was not exactly rising. Perhaps it was his publicity background kicking in, but he was unusually respectful of the work being done to market and distribute the film, and showered us with public praise when the film outperformed expectations. (more…)
The following is a podcast I took part in at Sundance as part of a program called “The Daily Buzz.” The other participamnts were:
Emily Best/SEED AND SPARK
Holly Herrick/AUSTIN FILM SOCIETY
Jim Brunzell/HAMMER TO NAIL
Ula Sniegowska/AFF POLAND
Tomris Laffly/FILM JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL
Comments after the break… (more…)
This past Tuesday night, I was honored by the Art House Convergence with the first annual Spotlight Lifetime Achievement Award. Since then, I’ve been asked by many people who were there if I could post my acceptance speech. Thanks to the good folks at 4th Row Films, who were there to capture it, here it is. They even were so kind to insert the video that was made by Spotlight Cinema Network. Thanks to one and all.
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Here is a podcast I did with Kevyn Fairchild from the Producers Guild. The topic was “Roles and Future of Independent Film Producers”
Feel free to comment after the break… (more…)
You might enjoy listening to this Michigan NPR Broadcast where Russ Collins from Art House Convergence and yours truly talk about my donation of my archives to the University of Michigan Screen Arts Mavericks and Makers Collection.
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In the last few days, the folks at Amazon have been a lot more open about their plans to invest in and distribute traditional theatrical films, as well as continuing their successful forays into episodic television. The various interviews and the accompanying analyses underline that fact that for Amazon, the goal is to get consumers hooked on its ecosystem, which bundles content with everything from baby formula and toilet paper deliveries. It reminds me of a story I tell every year in my Business of Film class at Columbia, which goes as follows:
About 20 years ago, at the Cannes Film Festival, I visited the hotel suite of a major sales agent to see what their upcoming product lineup looked like. As I entered the suite, I was greeted by the CEO of the company, who had a grin on his face. He sat me down and told me the source of his bemusement. (more…)
For those of us who follow the politics of theatrical distribution in the United States, the recent controversy about Disney’s required terms for showing “The Avengers” struck a chord. The dynamics between exhibitors and distributors have always been fraught, and this is only the most recent example. John Fithian, the head of the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), has publicly pushed back at Disney’s latest demands, but as Tori Baker of the Salt Lake Film Society points out, this is an issue that affects all exhibitors, not just the big chains. Her open letter to the art house community on this subject is reprinted (with her permission) below.
I have just returned from CinemaCon a few weeks ago and I am astounded by the volume and “billions” talked about at every corner of that event, from studios, from executives, and from those operating the larger chain for-profit cinemas. At one point someone used a great classic film as an example of something “lame” and proudly touted an action super-hero movie as “awesome.”
While the mission driven art house cinemas are not exactly playing on the same playing field, the issue of price fixing, as pointed out by John Fithian in his response to Disney, is a valid concern for us as well. Unfortunately for all exhibitors, the reality is that if ANY studio changes their terms or makes other demands, the entire food chain of studios, mini-majors and indies end up following their lead. It reaches the independent film world very quickly.
Here is the full text of the kickoff remarks I made this morning at the Minority Independent Producers Summit, a three day conference that has going on since Tuesday night in New York City. This morning’s topic was marketing and distribution and consisted of panel discussions and case studies. The full schedule of events can be found at mipsummit.com. The intention of my remarks was to set the stage for the discussion that followed, and to throw out a few provocations to wake people up.
Before I start, I want to thank the Founding Members of MIPS for organizing this conference. I want to particularly thank Damian Bender for co-curating this morning’s Distribution and Marketing Pod as we’ve taken to calling it. I’m listed as the co-curator, but Damian is the one who did the heavy lifting, so I want to give him a big shout out.
When I was first approached about being on advisory board for a conference about underrepresented/minority producers of movies and television, I had a series of immediate responses swirling around in my head. (more…)
The following are the remarks I made earlier today at the Memorial for Richard Brick, which was held at Columbia University.
I would like to share a few words about my colleague, my mentor and my friend, Richard Brick.
Some people are born with the exact personality traits for a specific vocation. Richard Brick was born a Producer. His long-time course at Columbia was titled “Pre-Production.” The central pedagogy was that the only way to avoid disasters was to anticipate them, and to have a Plan B, a plan C and so on. In other words, plan for the worst. It was not just a class to him, it was a philosophy of life. He lived his entire life in a constant state of Pre-Production.
My first encounter with Richard was in 1987, when I received a cold call from him, asking me if I would like to teach a course at Columbia. He was the newly installed Chair of the Film Program at the time, and he was sitting in on every class that was offered in the program to evaluate its effectiveness. He determined that the class in Marketing & Distribution wasn’t working and he wanted a quick fix. It was a perfect Richard Brick moment. See a problem, fix it. Never having taught before, I said yes, and thus, in one stroke, Richard had set me on the road to a teaching career that I never anticipated. (more…)